STEELING THE SHOW
In my handbag is my latest buy and I think you’ll agree it steals the show when it comes to ecologically friendly consumerism. All at the same time I am protecting my health, saving the oceans, doing my bit for global warming and taking a swipe at greedy corporations.
My new purchase sits snugly in my bag alongside my fold up cloth bag – since the ban on free plastic bags I never go anywhere without it. And this should give you a clue as to what I’m taking about – it’s that 20thC invention: plastic. We all know plastic is bad as harrowing pictures of strangled seals, trapped turtles or birds dying of starvation with their guts full of plastic appear on our social media feeds, but what I didn’t know is that the single-use plastic drink bottle is far more sinister.
I know I should cut down on plastics, but a look through my weekly shop and the amount of plastic is simply overwhelming; I can’t do anything about all that packaging and it can just feel so dis-empowering. But I can do something about changing my drinking habits and that’s where my beautiful stainless steel bottle really steals the show.
I no longer spend my hard-earned money on water in a plastic bottle and that makes me smug. To understand my self-satisfaction you will need to follow me for a minute as I trace the journey of one bottle of water from source to ocean.
The humble drinking bottle began life in the laboratory. Clever scientists took the raw material of oil and created PET(E) – that is polyethylene terephthalate or, as I prefer to call it, PETE. PETE is an incredible material; it is clear, tough and shatterproof. The downside is that it was only ever created for single-use. If you decide to re-use a PETE bottle you are likely to absorb some of the dangerous toxins used to make it as they leach out with multiple use.
So re-use is not a good idea, but surely it’s fine as long as we recycle. Well partly, however, in reality less than 10% of plastic bottles are recycled and most of the 3 million bottles we throw away every day end up in the oceans – out of sight, out of mind.
You are probably wondering just like I did, how they get in the oceans. Some bottles are blown by the wind into the river and float out to sea, but the majority is buried in landfill where the plastic gradually breaks down and is leached into the ground water and gets into the river that way. Breakdown sounds good doesn’t it, but breakdown is not the same as biodegrade. It takes 500 years for plastic to break down completely, and breakdown creates trillions of microscopic pieces of plastic that are eaten by fish and fed up the food chain back to us – 5.2 trillion at the latest count.
And that is serious. Studies done on laboratory animals have shown that PETE can cause genetic damage. Other studies suggest links to breast, ovarian and prostate cancers, to liver damage and diabetes as well as decreasing male fertility. It’s not just ocean wildlife that is affected.
So what about my latest purchase? My stunning stainless steel water bottle – well, I think it is rather beautiful and it has certainly attracted bottle envy from my friends. It’s a one-off-buy as it will last for life – always assuming I don’t lose it! But the joy is that it is insulated and keeps the water cool. Surely there is nothing worse than warm water out of a plastic bottle that has been sitting in the car!
So I can sip my cool water and feel smug, not only am I not adding umpteen plastic bottles to the ocean every year, but I’m protecting my health – stainless steel by the way doesn't contain any hazardous chemicals.
Think of the knock-on effects from this one consumer choice. If we all did this we would save the millions of barrels of oil that is used for the sole production of disposable plastic bottles. We would save water – the manufacture of plastic bottles takes more water than the bottle actually contains. We would not have to transport the bottles from the factory to the consumer burning gallons of oil-derived diesel and petrol – that has to be good for global warming. And we will have stopped this indestructible substance filling our landfill and entering the oceans to interact with the entire ecosystem of the planet.
And for the socialists amongst us, we will have struck a blow against the only people to benefit by the commoditization of water – the multinational companies who bottle tap water and sell it back to us at huge profit, exploiting our determination to follow NHS guidelines and drink eight glasses of water a day.
And this is just the beginning. My dear little bottle only holds 300 mm. I want the return of public drinking fountains in every town and city as we used to have and like many towns in Europe today. I want my local authority to ban the provision of plastic bottles at events they hold and provide water as a right to anyone who wants it – to encourage us to come and fill up our reusable bottles. I’m going to ask my gym not to sell bottled water but instead sell lovely stainless steel ones that I know we are all going to want to buy.
And the best thing is that all the money I’ll save on not buying water in plastic bottles means I can buy stunning stainless steel bottles for all my friends and family for Christmas.
I give you the star that steals the show – the stainless steel bottle – good for the environment, good for our health and good for our pockets – we are all winners!
Join me and ‘Ban the Bottle’!
Dr Sue Lyle is a freelance educator with a passion for storytelling and our environment. For 45 years she has been working with children and teachers in schools to promote education for sustainability. In retirement she continues to work with schools and wants to turn her attention to making everyone aware of how together we can take baby steps to make a difference. "Since I decided to notice and try and change my use of plastics it has really affected how I feel. Knowing I am making a small difference has made feel more positive about the world and life in general. Writing this piece is part of my journey, I'd love to know if others feel like this.